2016 Government Affairs Summit Attendee Feedback
Jessica Fang (MSU student):
Prior coming to the conference, we have had many discussions regarding the issues of CORE/CACREP merger in my Rehabilitation Counseling program at Michigan State University. Most of the students are aware of the changes that comes with the merger, but listening from CORE experts including CEO Dr. Frank Lane was utterly informative. The panel session helped me to understand where CORE was before the merger, why the decision, disadvantages/advantages of the merger, where CORE is heading in the future. All of these information is extremely important on how I would identify as a rehabilitation counselor coming from a CORE accredited program. After the conference, I am motivated to continue following the issues of CORE/CACREP merger. Even though it is an end to CORE, it is a door of more opportunity for rehabilitation counselors to advocate, educate, and communicate with counselors from other areas the importance of rehabilitation for people with disability.
Kate Marsh (MRA Board Member):
I was very enthused about attending this particular conference as the Agenda revolved around WIOA and included a session on the CACREP-CORE merger.
The speakers on these topics were top notch. This conference is a great opportunity to hear about the work of our congressman and women on areas of great concern to our profession.
We were most fortunate to meet Senators Stabenow and Peters in person and speak to them about the issues most important to our field.
Thank you to the MRA Board for financial support that allowed me to attend this stellar event.
Kelly Loftis (Public Policy Co-Chair):
I was very appreciative to learn more about the WIOA legislation and hear from people at the federal level about its implementation. As someone whose work is not directly impacted by WIOA, it was a great opportunity to learn more about how it will impact service delivery models for vocational rehabilitation programs and to begin to brainstorm how other agencies could potentially collaborate to provide transition services.
Our legislative meetings were also very valuable. Both Senator Stabenow and Senator Peters expressed commitment to supporting initiatives related to improving mental health services and employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Congresswoman Dingell’s legislative aide was also incredibly engaged with our group and the suggestions and information we provided. It was rewarding to be able to have conversations with people in positions to impact change on a large scale and to keep the interests of people with disabilities in the forefront of their minds.
Rosanne Renauer (MRA Board Member, NARL Board Member)
The 2016 NRA Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington DC offered an extraordinary opportunity to understand the role of advocacy as it affects legislation and policy change. Of special note were the remarks of The Honorable Frederic K. Schroeder, Executive Director of NRA and past RSA Commissioner. As a blind-visually impaired person himself, Dr. Schroeder recognizes the need for real world solutions to the problems of low and under employment for persons with disabilities. He recommended a results based focus that continues the use of professional rehabilitation counselors as experts. His analogy recognized the role of experts not generalists when faced with a complex need or situation that relies on a coordinated approach and solution.
The conference also addressed the need for a coalition of advocates in order to move toward competitive integrated employment for everyone. WIOA is poised to address this through the major changes in the legislation. These include PETS, the provision of Pre –Employment Transition Services to students who are not yet graduated, recognizing the employer as a dual customer, the emphasis on competitive, integrated employment outcomes for every worker and the qualifications of staff who are providing services.
There has been a broad fundamental shift in policy that translates “competitive” to minimum wage protection. With the ADA, mainstreaming, inclusion and integration, there has and continues to be a shift in attitudes about integration, the nature of work and the inclusion of people with disabilities as workers. The 2016 Governmental Affairs Conference is really a demonstration of how we all need to get and remain engaged, practice individual leadership and advocate for change.
Becka Grassi (MRA Board Member, GAS Planning Committee)
Overall, the National Rehabilitation Association (NRA) Governmental Affairs Summit (GAS) was a success! The amount of knowledge that was taken away from the summit regarding trending techniques and strategies for rehabilitation counselors and job developers, legislation that is impacting the future of the profession, and how to create services that matches the legislation is irreplaceable. Additionally, the GAS provided a wonderful opportunity for professionals, to network with others from across the country. I would like to thank all those involved in making this year’s GAS a success, and a wonderful learning experience for seasoned, new, and students that attended the conference.
Toni Jordan (Public Policy Co-Chair)
This year’s Government Affairs Summit was productive. The MRA contingency met with Greg Sunstrum, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell’s aide, for the 3rd consecutive year. Mr. Sunstrum has served under the former Congressman John Dingell and is a longtime trusted aide. The objective for this year, in addition to presenting NRA position statements, was to continue to foster a relationship that would allow the congresswoman’ office to view MRA as a resource in regards to disability issues. Congresswoman Dingell was applauded for specific legislation, positions and causes she has championed. The Dingell office has always been disability friendly and can be a great ally both nationally and in the state. This particular seat has been served by the Dingell family since 1933, they have strong connections in the state and nationally. The congresswoman serves on caucuses that have direct impact on the individuals we serve as rehabilitation counselors: the Bipartisan Congressional Deaf Caucus, the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus and the Caregivers Caucus to name a few. She is active in Social Security concerns, saving pensions, making education affordable and veteran’s causes. We provided Greg with information on the scope of practice and practice settings for rehab counselors in an effort to explain why we are against the WIOA downgrading of professional credentials. Statistical evidence was provided for the congresswoman in regards to Michigan showing a higher percentage versus national averages of mature adults returning to work, return on investment both for the state and national VR programs, the success of the Michigan VR program ranking 5th in the nation, the dual customer approach and how we can be an asset for business and lastly how we work with a wide spectrum of disabilities. The congresswoman’s office agreed to add MRS to their online resources under the headings of job seekers, parents, students senior and veterans. The contingency spent approximately 30 minutes with Greg and discussed several topic not covered in this brief summary. A more concise overview can be presented at the board’s request. In closing, overall we made great gains in our visit to the congresswoman’s office.